April 4, 2011 / 10:19 AM / 9 years ago

Action needed to address nuclear fears - IAEA chief

* Worries about nuclear must be taken seriously - IAEA head

* Amano says stricter, transparent safety rules needed

* China sees need for deepened nuclear safety cooperation

By Sylvia Westall and Fredrik Dahl

VIENNA, April 4 (Reuters) - The U.N. atomic energy chief told a nuclear safety forum on Monday that stricter standards and full transparency are vital to restoring public confidence in nuclear energy after Japan’s Fukushima crisis. Japan has been struggling for more than three weeks to stabilise a nuclear power plant hit by a massive earthquake and tsunami. The disaster has triggered a rethink about the use of the technology around the world. “The crisis at Fukushima Daiichi has enormous implications for nuclear power and confronts all of us with a major challenge,” Yukiya Amano, director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, told a meeting of 72 nations in Vienna.

Speaking at a convention aimed at reviewing nuclear safety guidelines which was scheduled before the crisis, Amano told delegates they could not take a “business as usual” approach.

“The worries of millions of people throughout the world about whether nuclear energy is safe must be taken seriously.”

“Rigorous adherence to the most robust international safety standards and full transparency, in good times and bad, are vital for restoring and maintaining public confidence in nuclear power,” Amano said in a speech.

Japan’s emergency at its crippled Fukushima power plant has put the spotlight on how the U.N. agency is equipped to deal with an accident that has implications for other member states.

VOLUNTARY PACT

One tool to strengthen standards is the Convention on Nuclear Safety, which delegations were discussing on Monday, but the pact is voluntary.

The U.N. body does not have the ability to enforce any of the safety recommendations it issues — unlike its powers to curb possible atomic weapons proliferation.

Amano said that by the end of last year more than 60 IAEA member countries had told the Vienna-based agency they were considering introducing nuclear power programmes.

“In the light of the Fukushima Daiichi accident some countries have announced reviews of their plans for nuclear power,” he said, adding that the basic drivers behind the interest in nuclear power had nevertheless not changed.

“These include rising global energy demand as well as concerns about climate change, volatile fossil fuel prices and energy security,” Amano added.

Germany and Switzerland have said they will shut older reactors or suspend approvals, China has suspended approvals for new plants, and Taiwan is studying cutting nuclear output.

The Chinese chairman of the two-week meeting stressed the need to strengthen nuclear safety regulations as well as international cooperation on such issues.

Given energy security and climate change, however, the chairman, Li Ganjie, director of China’s National Nuclear Safety Administration, said nuclear power was still favoured by more countries as a safe and economic energy source. (Editing by Jeffrey Heller)

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